Tag Archives: publishing

A single room with a single book

3 Apr

“A book is a physical object with special attraction that has been, is, and always will be the same.”

Koshiyuki Morioka, quoted by odditycentral.com

IMG_0875

There’s a bookshop in Japan that only sells one book. Or more precisely, multiple copies of one book, with a different title chosen each week. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, it’s brilliant. So on a recent trip to Tokyo I took the time to seek out Morioka Shoten, a single room with a single book, quietly inhabiting a ground floor room of the Suzuki Building on a Ginza backstreet.

Simplicity can get complicated

If you’ve ever worked on any aspect of product development, or if you’ve ever tried to explain the ‘rules’ for the use of articles in the English language, then you’ll know just how difficult it is to keep something simple. A clear vision, sharp focus and zero compromise is essential if you are going to keep your idea on track. It’s perhaps no surprise then that Morioka Shoten was born from the vision of one man, Koshiyuki Morioka.

A little help from your friends

However, Mr Morioka didn’t go it alone with this venture. On a single sheet of paper he outlined his vision at an event where Masamichi Toyama was speaking. Mr Toyama is the President and CEO of Smiles, which ‘turns the whimsical into real business’, and whose corporate philosophy translates as follows:

“We seek to find new value in things that in our hectic day-to-day lives, are taken for granted and ultimately overlooked. To polish this carefully, to bring this value to even one more person – that’s the kind of thought behind our corporate philosophy.”

Mr Toyama decided to invest, and the ‘single room with a single book’ was brought in to being with help from Tokyo and London-based design engineers, Takram.

Multiple layers of simplicity

Takram helped to develop the brand and are responsible for the logo, a simple rhombic shape representing both an open book and a single, small room. This really is minimalism at its finest. Even the date on which the bookshop was first opened, the 5th of May 2015 (or 5.5.15) suggests a desire for every aspect of this venture to be ‘just so’. The whole concept embodies the idea of ‘slow reading’ and what is beautifully described by Takram as ‘blissed conversation between readers and authors’.

The book is the star

Whilst it’s easy to get carried away with the design aspects of Morioka Shoten, it’s immediately evident as you walk into the room that it’s the book that sits centre stage. The concrete floor and plain white walls mean that the focus of your attention is on the narrow table in the middle of the room, showcasing the chosen title. This is complemented by a small selection of related artwork and a beautiful cabinet of drawers acting as a desk and counter. But perhaps most importantly of all, the author is there too. Because rather than just a place where you can buy a book, this is where books develop into conversations, into art and and into new ideas. Events are held most evenings and the author is encouraged to spend as much time in the bookshop as possible during the week that their book is showcased. On my short visit I met not only Mr Morioka and the author and artist, Atsumi, but also the Editor of a Tokyo-based fashion magazine and the designer of the lampshade that hangs at one end of the room. Oh, and his adorable baby. This is a place for people to meet, for the beauty of printed books to be appreciated, for art to be enjoyed, and for ideas to be nurtured.

We need more of this.

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Learning from the games industry

14 Mar

IMG_0481

Publishers are struggling with the digital world. I don’t feel the need to add any caveats to that, because it seems to be an almost universal truth that from international news media organisations through to educational course book publishers (ELT included), everyone’s desperately trying to work out how they’re going to survive and flourish. At present, it’s the smaller, younger, more agile businesses that appear to have the upper hand, but with so much uncertainty and seemingly constant change, you’d be brave to do anything other than spread your bets.

At a recent conference, a talk on what we could learn from the games industry caught my eye, primarily because I was vaguely aware that this was an industry embracing change and innovation. As it turns out, the global industry is embracing it to the tune of $90 billion plus, though that number is being regularly revised. Upwards.

Now maybe it’s because I grew up with Binatone, Atari and the ZX Spectrum, but the talk, which began with some personal anecdotes about games in the 1970s and 1980s, really struck a chord with me. However, I’d like to think it was more than just nostalgia, as it reminded me that the games industry is so successful (it was described as an ‘economic phenomenon’, growing much faster than the music and film industries) because of the magic combination of creativity, talent and genuine innovation, or what the speaker, Dr Jo Twist (CEO at ukie), perfectly coined as the ‘power and beauty of games’. Some footage at the end of the presentation from a new game developed by The Chinese Room took my breath away and, as someone who has dipped in and out of games over the years, reminded me of the pure joy of discovering how the industry has moved on every time I stumble upon something new.

In brief, here are a few facts from the talk (which may or may not surprise you) and some valuable lessons all publishers could learn from an industry that was ‘born digital’:

  • The top five game spenders are the US, China, Japan, Germany and the UK
  • Six billion people globally are game players (don’t call them ‘gamers’!)
  • The average player is 30-something and 52% are female
  • The biggest mobile game market is China
  • Mobile game companies are most commonly less than five years old and have fewer than 25 employees

And what can we learn?

  • Respect your customers. They’re people, not ‘gamers’, not ‘users’, not data. Speak to them on equal terms, involve them in product development. Understand the importance of online collaboration and communities (see steam and twitch).
  • Embrace and actively seek out ‘evangelists’ for your products. ELT publishing is unlikely to ever inspire a character like PewDiePie (for the uninitiated, have a look at the number of views before dismissing the video), but the principle of getting publicity from experts in the field, who have no direct affiliation with the publisher, is far more powerful than publishers merely pumping out their own marketing messages.
  • A tiny piece of the Chinese market can translate to massive success. But you’ve got to be thinking mobile, and never forget that it’s complex and volatile, especially for foreign publishers. See this recent Outsell notice as a warning.
  • Being agile, taking risks, diversifying, experimenting, learning quickly from mistakes, all of these things have gone from desirable to essential. No publisher is going to survive the next few years by plodding along and making half-hearted nods towards agility and flexibility. This ELT Jam post illustrates just how tricky that may be for some.

Clearly this talk has had an impact on me, as one week on, I’m working in St Petersburg (my first time here) and rather than filling my free afternoon with a wander around the beautiful streets, taking in the amazing architecture, I spent it exploring the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines. Though given the number of 10p coins I shoveled into arcade machines in the 1980s, maybe we can put that one down to nostalgia.

Why don’t teachers use eBooks for professional development?

28 Aug

post by Mike Griffin on why Korean students don’t use apps for learning English made me think about some work I’ve been doing recently that involves teachers. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been looking at the potential for ELT professional development eBooks and trying to establish why there seems to be very limited demand for digital versions of existing print titles.

Now, given the title of this post, I guess it’s worth pointing out that I’m aware that there are language teachers out there already buying professional development eBooks. However, all the evidence suggests that most aren’t, despite the proliferation of laptops, tablets and eReaders, and the ease of purchasing eBooks online. The vast majority of language teachers and ex-language teachers I know, myself included, have at least a couple of ‘classic’ ELT methodology books on their (physical) bookshelves, and the more fortunate ones will have a well-stocked resource library where they teach, giving access to both practical guides and theoretical texts.

So at a time when Amazon and many others are telling us eBook sales are booming, why is the ELT industry still so wedded to print? Here are a few of the most common responses I’ve heard from teachers:

  1. eReaders are for fiction, tablets are for apps and social media. Reference texts and methodology books don’t really suit either device. Print is best because I can quickly find what I want, and I can bookmark and annotate pages.
  2. I don’t buy books for professional development. I rely on my library or school, where the only option is print.
  3. Publishers are not giving teachers the incentives to purchase digital. Digital needs to be cheaper, maybe up to 50% cheaper, and there needs to be extra features like audio, video and interactive exercises.
  4. There are so many free online resources, including blogs, journal articles and social media communities, with content more suited to reading on mobile devices, so there’s no need to buy methodology eBooks. Or print books for that matter.
  5. I do read eBooks, but I don’t pay. I only download free PDF versions, you know, the ones you kindly make available on those Russian websites.

This is of course all anecdotal and there are counter-arguments to every one of these points. You can bookmark and annotate eBooks, there is potential for excellent search functionality, the expectation of more content and features for a considerably lower price can be challenging but if approached sensibly can be addressed, and whilst there are some fantastic, thought-provoking bloggers around, this is content that should arguably complement rather than replace cutting-edge, high quality methodology and applied linguistics publishing. Finally, if you need convincing that downloading pirate PDFs is damaging and unacceptable, take the time to read this ELTJam post.

The potential is there for digital delivery to improve the reader’s experience when it comes to methodology and reference titles (in ELT beyond), and for publishers to deliver content in more flexible ways through subscriptions, disaggregated content and library services. However, if print is what most language teachers want (and what teacher trainers and lecturers insist on putting on reading lists) how much time should publishers really spend trying to convince them to switch to digital? And is it a case of switching, or would teachers appreciate redeemable codes for free or low-cost eBooks bundled with the print books, thereby putting a single purchase on both their virtual and physical bookshelves?

I don’t think there are definitive answers to any of these questions, and ELT publishers are either going to continue scratching their heads or, as we’re already seeing (mentioning no names), abandoning professional development publishing in order to focus more energy on the blockbuster courses where there’s greater profit to be made. Whilst I’m all too aware of the importance of keeping publishing profitable, I don’t believe that should be the only driver when it comes to methodology and applied linguistics. Quality publishing in this area is what stimulates debate, brings about change and essentially underpins the professionalism in ELT. What I hope digital content will allow, perhaps combined with print, is more – not less – professional development publishing, better accessibility to ‘classic’ titles, and the ability to reach a greater audience through more flexible content delivered at a lower price. This is simple and yet incredibly complicated, so do get in touch if you have a global solution, and in the meantime, please step away from those illegal downloads.

Global trends, big questions: adaptation or extinction?

17 Feb

I went to see a Futurologist recently. Now you may be imagining this:

crystalball

Thankfully, as I soon discovered, Futurologists are not charlatans with crystal balls, they tend to be very much grounded in the reality of now. Before last week I had never even heard anyone refer to themselves as a Futurologist. It was therefore not a great surprise when the speaker began his talk by explaining that the best way to become a Futurologist is to call yourself a Futurologist. It’s not a common profession. A lesson there for anyone saving up for Futurologist school. Oh, and never call a Futurologist a Futurist, it makes them angry. Futurists were spawned from Futurism, an artistic movement that started in Italy in the early twentieth century. Futurology is quite different. It’s the study of existing conditions in an attempt to predict what may happen in the future. Ever looked out of the window and tried to decide whether or not you might need an umbrella later in the day? Congratulations, you’re a Futurologist, feel free to put that on your business card. If you get really good with your analysis of the world, and start to be able to predict global trends, big businesses will pay you a lot of money to advise them on spotting opportunities and scenario planning. Crystal ball is optional.

Anyway, to the point. Despite my flippancy, the talk was brilliant. But, like many brilliant talks, it raised more questions than it answered. Below is a brief summary of what the Futurologist, Richard Watson, had to say.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
Charles Darwin

As a species, the human race is rubbish at planning. However, we are very good at adapting and dealing with change. This is what has ensured our survival up until now and is likely to ensure our survival in the future. There are five ‘Forces’ that will determine how the future unfolds (six if we include anxiety about the other five):

1. Demographic shifts

Population growth, ageing nations, the rise of single person households, new family forms and other big changes in lifestyle and demographics could, and probably will, have implications for healthcare services, which will come under increasing pressure. There may be skilled labour shortages, a possible shift of economic activity to areas with high fertility rates, such as Africa, and the complexities and volatility of life could drive an interest in simplicity and security. Lots of ifs and maybes, you’ll notice, but that’s what Futorology is about: there are very few certainties, only possibilities.

2. BRICs and Beyond

The big four newly advanced economics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) could conceivably become bigger than G7, but will they become more like the economies of Japan and the US, or will the G7 economies become more like India and China? Can the current global integration hold or are we going to see a counter-trend of nationalism and protectionism? And can China shift from the ‘made in China’ label to an ‘invented in China’ label? However the economies of the world develop, we are likely to see a scramble for resources such as food, land, energy and (this was something Watson was keen to emphasise) water.

Futurologists don’t just look at the present and try to predict the future, they also look to the past. Watson highlighted our tendency to look only at fairly recent history – a generation or two back – in order to establish possible trends. But actually, we should be looking over much longer periods, in fact, as far back as we can, to get a true idea of the big, global trends. Below is a slide that was shown, illustrating the major economies’ share of global GDP over the past 2,000 years:

majoreconomies

So perhaps China, who peaked two centuries ago thanks to the opium trade, are simply climbing back to the global position they were in (along with India) 1,000 years ago, and Western Europe and the US are slipping back to their less dominant position.

3. Global Connectivity

Mobile is now the critical platform – we have huge demand for speed and mobile access in everything – we’ve got open innovation and our machines are getting smarter, but are we? Connectivity is driving data theft, there is volatility and systemic risk, and we have seen that online crowds can bring together both great wisdom and great foolishness. The implications of this global connectivity are more mobile retail and  e-payment systems, growth of augmented reality, more collaborative consumption, and also an increase in personalisation of products.

4. GRIN Technologies

Genetics, Robotics, Information (Internet) and Nanotechnology. We are only just beginning to discover how smart technology can get. These kinds of technologies could help us to solve skills shortages, or add to the amount of skilled employment, there will undoubtedly be a growth in ‘big data’, data analytics and predictive technology, and we may, for example, see a merger between healthcare and financial planning. Check out the DNA home-testing kits on the 23andme website to see how this is already happening:

“Knowing how your genes may impact your health can help you plan for the future and personalize your healthcare with your doctor.”
23andme.com

However, not everyone is likely to embrace this technology-led future, and ‘future shock’ may well fuel a demand for nostalgia. We’ve already seen the ‘slow food‘ movement emerge as a reaction to fast food and fast lives, could the future lead us more towards slow thinking and nostalgia for physical friendships, live events, manual work and local communities?

5. Sustainability

Watson appeared to have a fairly positive view of the future, stating that whilst there are some big concerns – environmental, political, social, economic – on the whole we’re pretty good at adapting, so extinction of the human race is probably not on the cards (at least not in the near future). Nice to know. However, there is a key issue of energy shortage, combined with the fact that conservation is being largely ignored. We could see tightening regulations, H2O could become the next CO2, and measures such as personal movement allowances may not be that far-fetched.

He then went on to present four possible ways in which our world could progress, illustrated below:

Enoughism

Moreism
A combination of social passivism with market optimism will lead to people striving towards a culture of excess. Some would argue that large chunks of the world are already heading in this direction.

Personal fortress
Social passivism and market pessimism lead to people extracting themselves from society and creating small, secluded communities (or taking to the hills with canned food, bottled water and automatic weapons).

Enoughism
Market pessimism and social activism creates a culture of cooperation, conservation and equal sharing of resources. Very much the opposite of Moreism.

Smart Planet
A combination of market optimism and social activism results in an embracing of new technology to build a future based on global collaboration and smart solutions to problems.

I would argue that the world is big enough for all of these to exist simultaneously. Those of us who were listening to this talk, drinking wine in a trendy building in Old Compton Street, London, were, I suspect, all in the fortunate position of being able to select any part of the grid above and living our lives in whatever way we chose. But we’re in the minority. If there’s going to be a big global shift towards one of the quarters outlined above, then it’s going to be driven by the masses, and those masses don’t currently have the luxury of choice.

Pretty big topics. I was a bit disappointed, therefore, when we moved from considering the implications of a global shortage of energy and water to questions from the audience such as ‘What’s the future of the British high street?’ I guess it’s normal though to try and relate global concerns to our immediate world and experiences. With that in mind, I wondered what impact some of these big, global trends could have on publishing, and more specifically, ELT publishing.

“What a business needs the most for its decisions, especially strategic ones, is data about what goes on outside it.”
Peter Drucker

You do not need to be a Futurologist to see that printed books are soon going to be overtaken by their digital counterparts. Printed books can be beautiful, desirable objects so I doubt they’ll disappear completely, but the immediacy and mobile nature of eBooks, combined with ever-decreasing prices of the hardware to read them on, make the switch to digital inevitable. The boom right now is in fiction, but educational resources (including ELT) are already heading in the same direction, and we are seeing initiatives to flood schools with tablet devices in countries such as Turkey and the UAE.

Publishers who adapt to this change to digital will survive, anyone who doesn’t will very soon become extinct. ELT publishers in particular also need to consider where the big markets will be for English language learning in the future and how learning will take place. Do we need more investment, for example, in online resources for remote learning, and adapted, localised support for emerging markets? Localisation is an interesting one as in some ELT markets we’re seeing a real growth in small, local publishers who are producing materials that suit local needs, in terms of content, delivery and just as importantly, price. Global publishers can bring quality and experience to this mix, yet seem determined to compete rather than collaborate. This could be a big mistake.

And finally, what will the role of the English language teacher be? Will physical classrooms all but disappear in the future? Personally, I think the digital can sit very comfortably alongside the physical, and in ELT at least, I can’t see a desire for language learning in a classroom setting disappearing.  Technology just becomes another option, another layer, it can be integrated into more ‘traditional’ approaches, it’s not a case of one or the other. We’ve seen this already in the music industry. The iPod generation have not stopped going to festivals and concerts. The digital world allows us to share content instanteously and create virtual communities, but it cannot replace shared, physical experiences and the thrill of live events. I’m not suggesting that English language teachers are rock stars – despite what some of them may think – simply that most people like to socialise and share the same experiences, particularly when it comes to learning. It’s why people still form book clubs, museums continue to thrive and why, in my opinion, virtual schools and classrooms will never fully replace their physical counterparts. Then again, I’m no Futurologist ….

Richard Watson’s website: http://www.nowandnext.com

He’s written some books too, most recently: Futurefiles and The Future: 50 ideas you really need to know

And finally, check out this great Trend Map

Death of the print dictionary?

12 Jan

“Like maps and encyclopedias – but unlike novels or newspapers – dictionaries are things you consult (while you’re doing something else) rather than things you read. For any kind of reference enquiry, the book really can be improved upon, and at Macmillan, we’ve taken the decision to phase out printed dictionaries and focus on our rich and expanding collection of digital resources.”

Rundell, M. (2012) Stop the presses – the end of the print dictionary www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/bye-print-dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary announced towards the end of 2012 that they would no longer be printing dictionaries. They were going 100% digital.  Many dictionary users around the world shrugged their shoulders. If there has ever been a print product in need of regular updating, and benefitting from a digital format, then it’s the dictionary. Digital dictionaries enable easy searching, audio (and therefore pronunciations you can hear as well as read) and portability. For many years dictionary users have been able to load content on to their PCs from CD-ROMs and we now have eBooks and online products with integrated dictionaries, plus a wealth of free online options and low-cost (and high-cost) mobile apps. Since 2010, winners of the popular UK TV show Countdown have received a laptop and lifetime subscription to Oxford Online, replacing the long-standing traditional prize of a leather-bound, 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Macmillan may have been the first to make a formal announcement, but all dictionary publishers have been going digital for years.

So the print dictionary is dead, right? Or are we getting it dead wrong?

Last week I presented details of our 2013 plans for ELT dictionary publishing at the Cambridge University Press ELT winter sales conference in Athens. These plans include a new (fourth) PRINT edition of the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, due to be published in Spring 2013. And the reason we’re doing this? In simple terms, because there’s still demand from our customers. Whilst digital immigrants are becoming more accepting of content in digital format, and digital natives expect it, given the choice there is still a solid market for print, and this includes dictionaries. A presentation at the same conference from a hugely successful Greek wholesaler illustrated that this is particularly true in Greece where, despite the country’s economic woes, the ELT industry continues to provide a good living for print book sellers and distributors who work effectively with publishers, and who understand what their customers want. For me, it underlined the importance of taking an objective look at the markets, listening to customers and analysing data objectively, rather than making dangerous assumptions or predictions and then applying them globally, based on my own digital preferences or customer behaviours in the UK.

So if it’s generally accepted that digital dictionaries are a good idea, why this continued interest in print? When the Macmillan announcment appeared online I put a question about the value of print dictionaries to a business English Linkedin group. Opinions were mixed, but here are some of the responses in favour of print:

“I like using print versions with my younger students, because it helps them with learning the alphabet and how and where to find a word in a dictionary. It may be old-fashioned but I still think it is an essential skill to learn.”

“I still hand students monolingual dictionaries in class as their phones only have bi-lingual ones. And sometimes just looking at a whole page (especially those with wonderful illustrations) is better than checking online.”

“There is no doubt that searching for a word in a book has a value that cannot be found in pressing a key. The imprint it makes on a person and his memory is different perhaps because it involves his human faculties. An online dictionary puts the meaning in front of you as a piece of dry information without any sense of accomplishment (effort).”

“A dictionary is a great resource … once opened, it’s difficult for a motivated student to close. I find students use printed dictionaries both at home and in the classroom – they feel comfortable with them …”

Clearly then, not everyone is in favour of dictionaries only being available digitally, and perhaps because of the particular ways dictionaries are used when learning another language, it seems the ELT community will continue to embrace print, as long as it’s available. You’ll find similar comments on the Macmillan blog.

However, the process of publishing planning is a detailed and complex one, heavily dependent on financial viability and therefore not nearly as simple as just looking at sales figures and speaking to customers and distributors. There is no guarantee that Cambridge, or any other publisher, will continue to print ELT dictionaries in the coming years and our digital alternatives (online and mobile) are already making a huge impact. For example, it is thought that the free dictionaries at dictionary.cambridge.org  are the world’s most popular online ELT dictionaries. Monthly visits are in the millions, and by allowing advertising on the site Cambridge can offer users a range of quality, up-to-date dictionaries completely free of charge. There’s also an API developer hub.

For the time being though, Cambridge will continue to offer learners and teachers of English a choice – and many are choosing to access our dictionaries in more than one way. As we stride in to 2013, it seems that the reported death of the print dictionary in 2012 was an exaggeration.

Find out more about Cambridge print dictionaries and mobile apps at www.selfstudy.cambridge.org

Free Cambridge ELT dictionaries can be accessed at dictionary.cambridge.org

Follow Cambridge ELT dictionaries, including ‘Word of the Day’:

Facebook www.facebook.com/pages/Cambridge-Dictionaries-Online

WordPress dictionaryblog.cambridge.org

Twitter @CambridgeWords

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